|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta
Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 16, 2008 - John Dewberry is adding another job title to his resume: hotel magnate.
The developer and former Georgia Tech quarterback is creating Dewberry Hotel Co., a luxury brand he hopes will resemble the high-end standards set by famed British hotelier Rocco Forte.
"I love his hotels," he said of Forte, whose holdings include the Hotel de Russie near the Spanish Steps in Rome and the Hotel Savoy in Florence. "They are classic, elegant, clean, not over-designed."
And the first hotel he'll add to this new strategy will be the Wyndham Hotel he owns on 10th Street between Peachtree and Juniper streets.
While he does not think it will carry the Dewberry Hotels name -- he says the building physically doesn't fit his vision for the chain -- he will re-flag it at the end of August with a yet-to-be-determined name.
Dewberry, who is known for mixed-use developments and office projects like Peachtree Pointe in Midtown, hopes to open 10 Dewberry hotels over the next 10 years, he said. He is scouting locations in Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as some secondary markets like Charleston, S.C.
Interest in the hotel industry has grown over the years -- especially in Atlanta -- as demand has outstripped supply in some segments, like the luxury market and extended stay, experts said. While the weak economy has slowed the pace of hotel growth this year as it has other industries, lodging experts still see demand increasing over the next decade.
In Atlanta such well-known entrepreneurs as former Ritz-Carlton head Horst Schulze and Novare Chief Executive Officer Jim Borders have gotten into the game. Schulze has developed the Solis and Capella brands through his company West Paces Group while Novare launched Twelve Hotels in 2006.
Transitioning from builder to hotelier is not easy, said Mark Woodworth, executive vice president of PKF Consulting Inc., an Atlanta firm that tracks the health of the hotel industry. It requires someone with the experience of running an operation that never closes, a strong direct sales team to keep visitors coming, management that can handle varied on-site and off-site work forces and an understanding of the importance of a physical plant that operates around the clock.
"It's a very, very challenging effort and history tells us that there have not been a lot of people who could do it successfully," he said.
That's partly because it can be difficult to make a brand visible in a field crowded with established marquees like Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott and Doubletree, said Mark Newton, program director of the hotel, restaurant, tourism management program at Gwinnett Tech. "The challenge is marketing and how you get your name out," he said.
Dewberry is confident he will be one of the successful newcomers. His strategy, he said, is to be very selective and initially concentrate on areas that can support his dream like New York and Chicago.
For instance, he does not think Atlanta can accommodate any more high-end luxury hotels right now. Georgia's capital, which traditionally has had lower room rates than other major cities, went from having three high-end hotels -- the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton downtown and in Buckhead -- to five with the addition of InterContinental and Rosewood since 2003.
St. Regis, one of the country's most prestigious brands, is expected to open here next year while and other competitors like W, Palomar and Baccarat Hotel and Residences will battle for dollars from the well-heeled.
And he's willing to be patient. Very patient. Dewberry has angered many in Midtown for not developing his property at 10th and Peachtree streets, a prime block of real estate across from the Federal Reserve building and big projects like 1010 Midtown and 12th & Midtown.
He said he is sitting on the property -- home to a Thai restaurant, a vacant building that formerly housed Jocks & Jills Sports Grill and a new location for nightclub Vision -- until he can build a destination, possibly a skyscraper, that would be as much a business address as it would be a tourist attraction.
"What we would like to do with 10th Street would be to build the Rockefeller Center in Atlanta," he said.
He will use the performance of 1010 Midtown and 12th & Midtown, which will include a Loews Hotel, as a guide for his Dewberry Hotel prospects in Midtown and his 10th Street property. Selig Enterprises, which is developing the two projects, understands how to build retail and, if successful, will spark the next wave of construction.
"I think the Selig project will set the tone," he said.
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